While reading the poem Pike by Ted Hughes, I came across this line:

The gills kneading quietly, and the pectorals.

As you can see, the line ends quite abruptly. How would one term this literary device?

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    The obvious classification is poetical. It's not really a characteristic of normal English speech. – FumbleFingers Jan 20 '15 at 13:49
  • @FumbleFingers: I'm looking for something a bit more specific. – Vatsal Manot Jan 20 '15 at 14:09
  • In Lit Crit contexts you might consider staccato for an entire "writing style". Or in more "syntactic" terms applicable to a single construction, perhaps [grammatical] ellipsis. In your case the verb has been dropped, but it's much the same thing as Dropping the subject from sentences in an earlier question. – FumbleFingers Jan 20 '15 at 14:24
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    I don't really think so. Isn't all ellipsis "implicit"? What would explicit ellipsis even mean? – FumbleFingers Jan 20 '15 at 14:33
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    I would say "hanging". – Hot Licks Jan 20 '15 at 17:16

Lines ending abruptly may well be (though they are not necessarily) examples of aposiopesis. Wikipedia provides the following definition: "Aposiopesis ... is a figure of speech wherein a sentence is deliberately broken off and left unfinished, the ending to be supplied by the imagination..."

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    +1 Good word - I learned something new! :-) You may want to include the definition and name the source in your answer in addition to the link, in case the link goes away at some future time. – Kristina Lopez Jan 20 '15 at 16:46
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    @Kristina Lopez: thanks; I have acted on your suggestion. (I trust it is legitimate to amend answers in this way?) – Irefuteitthus Jan 20 '15 at 17:15
  • Looks good - and is that much more helpful to anyone reading your answer in the future! – Kristina Lopez Jan 20 '15 at 17:26
  • The gills kneading quietly, and the pectorals. An aposiopesis implies a trailing off of thought, it is never directly followed by a period. – Misti Jan 20 '15 at 17:42
  • @ Mysti Sinha: I'm not sure that punctuation is necessarily determinative, or that the thought has to "trail off" (rather than simply being left unspoken), but think you may be right that this particular line is not in fact an example of aposiopesis. I was focusing on the suggestion above of "abrupt ellipsis" and the title to the question. Apologies for starting this hare running. (I have tried unsuccessfully to delete the answer.) – Irefuteitthus Jan 20 '15 at 19:47

This is an example of a compound subject (gills and pectorals) split by the verb phrase (kneading quietly).

  • I agree — the gills are kneading (OED: "knead, v. 3.a. manipulate by an action similar to that in working dough") and so are the pectoral fins. – Gareth Rees Jan 28 '17 at 19:28

While aposiopesis is definitely close, I'd argue something different is going on here; namely, the sentence isn't left unfinished, but with an unexpected reuse of the verb kneading. This, to me, seems more like a zeugma. The definition according to yourdictionary: "A zeugma is a figure of speech where a word applies to multiple parts of the sentence." They give the following example:

The farmers in the valley grew potatoes, peanuts, and bored.

  • Thanks, but ending phrase "and the pectorals" is just an assertion of the existence of the "pectorals". The verb "kneading" does not apply to it. – Vatsal Manot Sep 22 '15 at 4:48

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